Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Reviewed by Elizabeth H. Cottrell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was so impressed with this author’s book Everything I Never Told You and was anxious to read this one too. Some reviewers felt it was not as good as her first, but I found it even better.
Like the first book, this story plumbs the depths of human emotion in the face of adversity — especially teenage angst — and explores the consequences of our choices, good and bad. The author used an unusual and effective combination of flashback with an occasional flash-forward: “He would remember this, years later, when…” Other themes shared by both books were the power of needing to belong, the unfair judgments we make of those who look and act differently from us, and the corrosive effect of long-held secrets. This is why I find so much value in reading—I can learn and think about and apply these important lessons through the experiences of the characters without having to learn them the hard way in my own life.
Rule-follower Elena Richardson and her “perfect” family live in the “perfect” town of Shaker Heights, a planned community where it’s very tough if you don’t fit in. No one knows this better than Elena’s four teenage children, who each cope with the pressure to conform in their own way.
Elena rents a house to Mia Warren, a somewhat vagabond artist and single mother with a mysterious past, whose teenage daughter Pearl finds the stability she’s always wanted in the Richardson’s home. Ironically, Elena’s four children are drawn to the love and unconditional acceptance they find in Pearl’s mother, Mia.
When a custody battle erupts in the neighborhood over a Chinese-American baby, abandoned by a desperate mother but then reclaimed just when a prominent Shaker Heights family wants to adopt her, Elena Richardson and Mia Warren find themselves on different sides of the issue. Elena’s obsessive investigation into Mia’s past has dire consequences, and the unraveling of everyone’s secrets is both painful and cleansing.
“It is a deep psychological mystery about the power of motherhood, the intensity of teenage love, and the danger of perfection,” said Reese Witherspoon, and I would agree.
Ng is a remarkable writer, especially adept at portraying emotions the reader feels deeply. I was impressed not only as a reader but also as a writer interested in the writing techniques of other writers.
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Bio from Amazon.com:
Celeste Ng grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio. She attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan. Her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, won the Hopwood Award, the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and the ALA’s Alex Award and is a 2016 NEA fellow. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To learn more about her and her work, visit her website at http://celesteng.com or follow her on Twitter: @pronounced_ing.